People have long puzzled over the question of whether or not King Saul was saved; that is, whether or not Saul was forgiven and justified by God and is in heaven today. It’s not possible to give a definitive answer because, of course, Saul’s salvation rests with God, not with us. We have no certain knowledge of the condition of Saul’s heart. As Scripture says, only God sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
The Bible does indicate that a person’s spiritual transformation will be evidenced by his or her “fruit” (Matthew 7:16–20). If a person continually produces “bad fruit,” then it is unlikely that he is a true believer.
Arguing against Saul’s salvation is his record of jealousy, hatred, and murder. Saul’s rule as king was characterized by failure and rebellion. He directly disobeyed God (1 Samuel 15:1–35) and broke God’s law by offering a sacrifice that only priests were to offer (1 Samuel 13:1–14). Saul was visited by evil spirits on several occasions (1 Samuel 16:14; 18:10; 19:9). Saul spent much time and energy trying to murder David (1 Samuel 18:10; 19:10; 23:14); he even tried to murder his son Jonathan once (1 Samuel 20:33). Incredibly, King Saul ordered the slaughter of eighty-five innocent priests and their families (1 Samuel 22:18–19). He consulted a witch and asked her to conjure Samuel up from the dead—another direct violation of God’s Law (1 Samuel 28:1–20). Saul ended his life by committing suicide (1 Samuel 31:4).
There is the tendency to look at the above facts and say, “Saul didn’t obey the Lord much at all, so that means he wasn’t saved.” But that is not quite fair, for there is more to the story.
Saul was God’s choice to lead Israel (1 Samuel 9:15–16). Before Saul was made king, Samuel told him to visit some prophets (1 Samuel 10:5). At that time, Saul was told, “The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. . . . God is with you” (verses 6–7). The promise that Saul would be “changed into a different person” sounds very much like the born-again statements in the New Testament (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). This description, plus the statement in verse 9 that “God changed Saul’s heart,” leads some to believe that Saul was saved.
Just as Samuel had said, Saul was filled with the Spirit and prophesied with the other prophets (1 Samuel 10:10–13). The question remains how exactly Saul was changed. Was his new heart evidence that the Lord had forgiven his sin and saved him for eternity, or was the Lord simply overcoming Saul’s reluctance to be king (see 1 Samuel 9:21)? The Bible does not say.
Those who believe that Saul was not saved point to the litany of abuses, missteps, and outrages that Saul committed, reasoning that no true follower of God could behave in such a way.
Those who believe that Saul was saved point to the fact that he was chosen by God and then used by God to prophesy and to defeat the Philistines. Saul made mistakes in his struggle against the flesh, but so do we all (Romans 7:21–23). Saul walked in the flesh for most of his life and therefore disobeyed the Lord. It doesn`t make him unsaved. It just makes him a disobedient believer, some say, and the Lord disciplined His child in the way He saw fit.
In 1 Samuel 28:19, the spirit of Samuel tells Saul, “Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.” These words indicate Saul’s fate. Samuel definitely predicts the king’s death. The question then becomes, do Samuel’s words “with me” refer broadly to Sheol, the place of the dead, or do they refer more specifically to the abode of the righteous? A case could be made either way, but the fact that Saul’s son Jonathan was a righteous man argues for the idea that Saul joined Samuel in the abode of the righteous.
Saul’s tragic choice to live according to the flesh caused him much sorrow. Saul started out so well, but his disobedience derailed what could have been a stellar kingship and the beginning of a dynasty. By his sin, King Saul lost everything: his relationship with his son, his leadership role in Israel, the love of his people, and finally his life.
Again, it is not our place to judge another person’s salvation. Only God truly knows whether or not Saul was saved. Did Saul begin his career with a humble, God-fearing heart? Yes. Did he commit egregious sins later in life? Yes. The matter of his salvation is between God and Saul.